An Interview With Joanie Captain

I had a wonderful conversation with Joanie Captain on February 10th, sitting outside at the Con Pane café across the street from the San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS). Joanie had done a very interesting and successful painting class with employees of Kaiser Health, and I wanted to learn more about that event and more about Joanie. Joanie is a compact, energetic, and effusive woman, and we chatted under the roar of airplanes taking off from Lindberg Field, but that detracted little from her interesting story.

It had been Kaiser’s idea to do a painting workshop for managers as one of the activities that they offer for their professionals. This concept was right up Joanie’s alley, as she had been a career professional trainer for an insurance company and was very comfortable with teaching just about anything. For a painting workshop in December, the organizers wanted something seasonal, but not tied to a specific holiday. So Joanie chose candy canes as a subject. Due to COVID concerns, all the teaching was done remotely, by Zoom from Joanie’s studio at her own home. The Kaiser staff helped her with logistics, such as how to train the cell phone’s camera on her and her work while she was online with the group, and she was able to practice. Of special concern to her were the details of how her presentation would work. Specifically, she thought about how she could allow the participants time to paint without abandoning them to silence. She settled on filling the painting time with “art trivia”, which was entertaining, informative, and allowed the people to paint while listening.

I asked her how she came to be invited to conduct this remote painting class. I learned that through Nell Bartlett, SDWS has a connection with Kaiser, and when Kaiser approached SDWS for someone to do an art activity Joanie felt she could lead such a class, since she had worked previously with adults in teaching art. Importantly, Joanie knew something about how to get people motivated and how to get them ready to work through their hesitations and fears about their performance and artistic ability. Since Kaiser was prepared to provide all the supplies and to get the room set up so that it was suitable for painting, Joanie gave guidance as to what supplies to buy, how to prepare surfaces such as desks or tables to paint on, and how to use the brushes, paints, paper, water containers, and everything else associated with painting in watercolor. Joanie recognized from the start that there would be challenges working with Zoom as a platform for teaching art. People are fearful of it, insecure with the technology, and may find the whole thing to be alienating for them. All these obstacles have to be overcome and addressed when teaching remotely.

Joanie started by showing her class some basic principles of watercolor painting: if you use more water, you get a lighter color; use less water to get a stronger color. She found, not too surprisingly, that people had different approaches, and different levels of confidence. She got them to talk about the art work they were doing, and to express how they felt about it. The artwork they produced in class was to make into postcards that were then sent to someone who worked in a different office of Kaiser. This resulted in a great tool for teambuilding. At the end of the class, Joanie talked about how to continue with painting if they wanted to do so. She suggested that they try to visualize what they want to do first, and offered links to tutorials they could look at to get ideas and learn techniques. But most importantly she told them that what matters is practice. You just have to go out and do it! Joanie noted that this kind of project counts as “outreach”, which is part of what the City Art Commission grants require for grant recipients such as SDWS. She enjoys such outreach projects, and is most comfortable with adults, including seniors, but she admires other SDWS volunteers who can, and do, work with kids. She notes that all outreach activities are volunteer work, and it is important for both the SDWS and for the community.

I asked Joanie “How did you get from where you started to here?” She smiled, and said that she always had a pencil in her hand, and always was drawing, from the time she was a small child. Her dad would buy typewriter paper when she was a kid, and she would just draw, draw, draw all over it. Her grandfather brought home sheets of wallpaper from his business, and she could spread them out and draw all over them, and they were hung up in her classroom: her first gallery! When she went to college, she started out majoring in Math, with a minor in Fine Arts, but she eventually switched that around to focus more on art. After college, she got married and had 2 sons. When her husband left, her life got pretty serious, with the two boys and a full time job as an insurance processor, a job in which she advanced to work as a supervisor and trainer. But art always took a back seat to the kids and the demanding job. She always did art work on the side, however, mostly commercially, developing products for businesses such as flyers and brochures. When she retired from insurance, Joanie started pursuing art more seriously, but she got frustrated, hit a wall, and felt her work was no good. So she decided to go back to school to earn her Masters in Fine Arts, hoping to obtain a teaching position at a local community college.. She studied at the Academy of Art University, taking a mostly on-line program, but she knew her professors personally, and found the course to be very focused and offering of good critiques. At the time, she focused mostly on oils as a painting medium. After having earned her Master’s in Drawing and Painting in 2019, she works smoothly and energetically, with a special focus on waves, which she envisions as a series. Since she lived in Encinitas, went to Pacific Beach and Solana Beach often, there was a great deal of opportunity to observe that subject!

In addition to her skilled and sophisticated paintings, Joanie does commercial art work as well. One interesting practice is for real estate agents, for whom she paints the houses they have sold. These paintings are very realistic, and are rendered as 8×10” paintings, submitted in frames. She does, she says, make good money for them. Other commissions have come in too, a lot of them with people in the requested image, but she’ll do anything she’s asked for. I asked her about her preferred medium, and she said that she uses mostly oils, but obviously also does watercolors, and says that she loves pastels.

When Joanie retired, one of young employees asked what she wanted to do, and she said she wanted to paint and do business and teaching as well. He said “Well, you can be mediocre in lots of things, or really good at one of them”.  So she made up her mind, on the spot, and has focused almost entirely on art. She is very happy with that choice, just painting and doing whatever commercial work she can drum up and is blessed to be given. Pretty good wisdom, she laughs, from a 27-year old!

Now, Joanie’s Tierrasanta home has space for art. There are a lot of nooks that Joanie has taken over for her painting: parts of the bedroom, parts of the expansive counter space in the kitchen, and there are a lot of easels scattered all around the house. It is the home of a committed artist!

Overall, Joanie feels that art is good and important for anyone. In her work with seniors, she emphasizes that conviction. Making the greeting cards has been a great exercise, as was shown at Kaiser. She notes that whatever you do a lot of, and work at, you will get good at. We are told that mastery takes10,000 hours of effort. Joanie says that 9,999 of them might result in paintings you think are terrible and you throw them out. And that is how you learn. Believe in yourself, and you will succeed and attain mastery!

Joanie left our interview to go – where else? – to Sunset Cliffs to study and take photos of waves to paint!

Joanie Captain
Maddie in the Garden by Joanie Captain
Accepted for Coronado Library’s 75th anniversary celebration

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